Ever since The Nightly Show with Larry Wilmore filled the void left by The Colbert Report as the follow-up to The Daily Show, Wilmore has admittedly and intentionally put an emphasis on exploring racism in America. In the first of a two-part segment, Larry and Nighly Show correspondent Ricky Velez asked a simple question: Is pro wrestling racist?
Ricky’s answer to this question would set the tone for the rest of the segment, “Yeah, wrestling’s racist as f***, Larry.”
The premise was pretty simple.
As Wilmore explained at the introduction of the segment, “Pro wrestling has a troubling history of racism that goes largely unchecked by the media, and we decided to send our contributor Ricky Velez out to a wrestling match to take a serious look at the issue.”
In fact, one of the few times the media really did take a look at racism in wrestling was this past July, when Hulk Hogan was caught making racist comments. When the news broke, the WWE fired Hulk Hogan, promptly and publicly. They wanted to distance themselves from anything that might make the company (and the industry) seem racist. But Velez reminded us of some arguably racist characters from WWE’s past, including the “Ugandan Giant” Kamala, the Million Dollar Man’s “slave” (as described by Velez, not by the WWE) Virgil, and Donald Trump as a WWE Hall of Fame inductee.
Velez sits down first with former WWE and ECW star (and current TNA talent) Tommy Dreamer, a 25-year veteran of the sport. After admitting that there have, indeed, been racist characters in pro wrestling’s past, Ricky asked Dreamer why he felt it was okay. The lifelong wrestling fan ironically gave a response that often riles up pro wrestling enthusiasts, “It’s not real.”
When Velez asked Tommy to tell him about the most racist thing he’s ever seen in professional wrestling, he described the scene captured below in a YouTube clip, where the aforementioned Virgil was attacked by wrestlers dressed as members of the KKK. It should be noted that this was not part of the WWE, but rather a segment from the National Wrestling Conference, circa 1995.
So Ricky Velez sat down next with Virgil. The Nightly Show contributor asked how Virgil could bring himself to play a slave (again, a term used here by Velez and Virgil, but never officially by WWE) as late as the 1990s.
“Listen here,” Virgil responded. “You got paid to play characters… how many things would you do for $100,000?”
Perhaps that shouldn’t come as a surprise. As Uproxx reports, Virgil has been subjecting himself to other humiliating things lately for much less money.
When Velez said he wanted to understand the racism in wrestling, Virgil agreed to turn the comedian into the “biggest racist wrestler of all time.” Virgil gave Velez (a Puerto Rican-American) a gimmick as a Mexican wrestler nicknamed “The Border Jumper.” Virgil repeatedly referred to Velez as a Mexican, claiming Mexicans and Puerto Ricans are the same thing. It was unclear whether this was his actual attitude or if it was just played up for the comedy news bit.
After going through some basic in-ring maneuvers and tips on how to work the crowd as a racist character, Ricky informed us of what we can expect on tonight’s episode of The Nightly Show when part two of this segment airs. Ricky “The Border Jumper” Velez will square off against Virgil.
Or, as Ricky pondered, “Will I survive my real wrestling match with this former fake slave?”
To find out, tune into part two of the segment on Comedy Central’s The Nightly Show with Larry Wilmore, which airs at 11:30/10:30c. If you missed this segment last night, you can catch it at the official Nightly Show page on Comedy Central’s website, or on Hulu.
[Image via Hulu]